No Union Dancing, For Now
by Ron Davis
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has good reason to rejoice after a recent victory in a legal battle with union leaders. That win could likely prevent disruption of businesses at Wal-Mart stores nationwide.
The legal battle began when certain unions challenged the Wal-Mart store in Benton, Arkansas. The unions charged that the company reacted illegally when legitimate members entered the store for purposes other than shopping. In response, Wal-Mart has made it clear that it will not allow anyone to enter its stores (which are private properties) for non-shopping purposes.
In response, the unions began demonstrations. Hundreds of people turned out, banging Wal-Mart merchandise like drums, and congregating in the parking lot. They also congregated on the sidewalk, standing in selected spots to cause Wal-Mart customers to swerve around them.
Some demonstrators sang and danced on the sales floor, parading, passing out billings and interfering with customer shopping activities.
Moreover, the union members refused to leave when requested. “Such activities,” some Wal-Mart observers later agreed, “have greatly surpassed merely handing out information and are in the sphere of causing irreparable harm to anyone in the store.”
Despite such complaints, the unions, simply argued that the National Labor Relations Board protects against Wal-Mart’s rules. In addition, and importantly, the unions point out that the Benton store does not presently hold rights to exclusively possess the surrounding parking lots and sidewalks. Those areas are subject to broad commercial easements, a fact that the unions allege that Wal-Mart seemingly ignores.
Finally, the prohibiting of entry onto Wal-Mart property for “any non-shopping purposes” is overly broad, the unions argued. The underlying purpose, the unions added, is simply to improve working conditions, reinstate worker who were terminated for speaking out for better working conditions, “and stop retaliating against workers who fail to comply with all of Wal-Mart’s rules.”
Despite the disagreement, however, the unions did not ever contend that the evidence was insufficient to support its findings that the demonstrations constituted trespass. Nor did Wal-Mart argue that it was entitled to a judgment. In fact the two adversities agreed on many facts, but disagreed over the extent to which the demonstrations interfere with Wal-Mart’s operations.
On appeal, the court ruled, “The prohibition of appellant’s entry onto Wal-Mart property for non-shopping purposes is overly broad…. We find merit in appellants’ point and affirm the order as modified in this opinion”
Added the court, “The store was not required to prove that union members unreasonably interfered with store’s rights to use its property in order to establish trespass”
(United Food and Commercial Workers International Union v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. No.CV-15-900)
Decision: December 2016
Published: December 2016